November 2nd marks All Souls’ Day—generally a Catholic observance remembering the dead.
It caps the nether-worldly triumvirate including Halloween and All Saints’ Day at the time of year when the fluid of the natural world slows and activity moves underground. Traditionally, All Souls’ Day has been a day of spiritual bartering in which the currency of prayer was to commute a loved one’s stay in the graceless murk of Purgatory. But this isn’t the way that I want to honor my dead. Too burdened. Too intangible. Too much of a downer.
Like the Mexican celebration of El Dia de los Muertos, I want to express a lighthearted tribute through the senses, in particular with song. So, I’ve put together a playlist with selections from each loved one’s personal history.
“The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face” sung by Roberta Flack
This one’s for my younger sister Cathy who at the age of six had the moxie to turn on the stove to show me how to fry an egg and who as a teenager had the guts to have a paper route when it wasn’t cool. She could buy $5 LPs while the rest of us scrounged babysitting change for 99-cent singles. But it was Flack’s 1972 hit single that Cathy played the most—the singer’s voice wafted through our house for months. Was my 16-year-old sister in love before the music stopped?
“Rocky Mountain High” sung by John Denver
Mom was a singing waitress at a place called Mario’s in Aspen in the early Fifties. She was a nursing school graduate briefly pulled by the ski bum’s life, plus she had a voice. Seven kids later, she’d return with us on ski trips either on the train or packed into the station wagon with a cooler full of bologna sandwiches. It was all fun except maybe for the mildly uncomfortable moments when she’d sing along to Denver’s hit as it played at the lodge cafeteria.
“The Victors” played by the University of Michigan Marching Band
My dad was not a music guy. But as a former UM football player, he loved Michigan’s fight song, teaching us the words and tune as little kids. It was an indelible link to the Glory Days of being a student-athlete. From him came the terse wisdom to my son as a college freshman: “Mike, you can be a student, an athlete, or a partier. You can be two of the three, but not all three.”
“Empty Pages” by Traffic
Everyone should grow up with a best friend like Mary Gael. She was a mastermind of mischief who filled our long summer days and Friday nights before The Ghoul Show came on. Prank phone calling was the gateway antic that led to more ambitious productions like dressing up for the Domino’s Pizza delivery man and staging slapstick bits before paying him. This often involved a cast of my younger brothers and sisters, my charges for the evening.
So, what about the song? It’s here because the 1970 Traffic concert in Ypsilanti, Michigan, is the last best memory of my childhood best friend, hip huggers and all.
And in case anyone remembers me with a song, please don’t let it be “Für Elise.” Although those subjected to my constant practicing of this piece deserve time off in Purgatory.